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August 20, 2012 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Student Health: When Cancer Rears Its Head

Sally was enjoying life at uni with her newly found independence, and study going well. Then out of the blue, she found out that her mother, living in Invercargill, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and following her surgery was to have lengthy chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. This put Sally into a tailspin. How could she help her mother who was miles away and also keep focused on her study?

Whether it is your mother,father, sister, brother or a close friend, it is often extremely difficult to know how best to support someone who lives at a distance from you. What do you say? What can you do when finances aren’t great, and you can’t afford to fly back and forth to visit? How do you cope when you feel that person needs you, but you can’t be there?

First of all, it is important to know that you don’t need to deal with this alone. The Cancer Society is an example of an organisation that is well placed to help you with resources and wide-ranging support. Other organisations such as your local church or your student health centre can also be valuable.

You may be surprised at how you feel emotionally. You may feel shocked, scared, angry or helpless. Many people feel guilty—not only at not being there to help, but also as relationships with parents can be difficult—especially when they ‘push your buttons’. It can help enormously to talk to someone who understands this. You can talk to our Cancer Information Nurses on the Cancer Information Helpline—0800 CANCER (226 237) to ask any questions or concerns or link into our online support –  CancerChatNZ.  Cancer Society Wellington also offers free counselling by appointment.

We live in such a great age for communication. And this is one area that you can be active in. Texting, phoning, skyping, emailing and the old fashioned cards and letters, are all ways of being connected. The most important thing for so many people is knowing that you are there—caring, loving and concerned. Learn to be a good listener—many carers think they have to ‘do and fix’ all the time, but being a comforting ear on the phone can be of enormous benefit. The Cancer Society Support team can help you if you are struggling in what to say and suggest other ways you may help.

Parents often want to protect their children from bad news and may not be forthcoming in what is happening to them. Again the Cancer Society offers a wide range of booklets and fact sheets that can help you be better informed and a valuable support person. Check out our website:, email us— or ring 0800 CANCER (226 237).


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